Hispanic Heritage Week: Critics Aside, Espada Jr. Maintains Political Prowess
He has many critics, but no one can dispute that Pedro Espada Junior is the most powerful Hispanic elected official in the state. NY1's Josh Robin filed the following report.
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It may be a coincidence, but in Spanish, Espada means sword. To the Bronx politician it could be a fitting symbol of his chivalrous battles for the under-represented.
"We like to think of ourselves as speaking for the voiceless," Espada Junior said.
To detractors, it might signal something else. This summer, Espada Jr. abandoned fellow Democrats to shift power to the Republicans. After a month-long stalemate, it was the Republicans' turn to see Espada Jr. leave. He returned to the Democrats for a plum position.
Now, this 55-year-old son of the South Bronx is New York's top Latino elected official.
While he has many who call him bad names, and investigators on his trail, Espada Jr. insists he's often stopped on the street and thanked.
"People need symbols of success so that they can know that it's possible to achieve the American dream," Espada Junior said.
It's a dream that started in Puerto Rico, then a troubled adolescence in the Bronx.
Espada Jr. says that as a teenager, the man who would end up New York State Senate Majority Leader was homeless. He says he moved from the streets to a dorm room at Syracuse University.
A teaching career turned into founding the Soundview Health Center. It's served many of New York's poor, while also serving as a political machine.
"He's been able to master the technique of building his own little mountaintop of political power there in the South Bronx," said Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez. "Nor should he be a poster child for Latino leadership in this state, because he is continually showing that his main concern is not his constituents, but Pedro Espada himself."
Espada Jr. claims he's concerned with migrant workers and transparency in government. On both accounts, so far, he's fallen short in the legislature.
He's also dealing with legal inquiries. In 2005, three of his clinic employees pleaded guilty to diverting health money to his political campaign. Now, tax issues and Espada Jr's residency have law enforcement agencies looking again.
But foe-turned-ally Ruben Diaz Senior sees a double standard in the attention.
"If the person is investigated and the person is corrupt as you said, how come it hasn't been proven in a court of law?" Diaz asked.
As to why he admires Espada Jr., Diaz says it's his guts.